Martin McDonagh’s Irish play is a raucous romp following the explosive love-hate relationship between two brothers, a self-proclaimed ‘terrible’ priest, and a liquor-selling schoolgirl named Girleen. As the play’s director George Bancroft-Livingston rightly notes, this play mixes a winning formula of humour and family etiquette juxtaposed with Catholicism and questions of morality.
In a town where it seems everybody has committed one crime or another (which is okay, as long as they repent at church), the two brothers Coleman and Valene Connor returned from their father’s funeral to drink with Father Welsh (Tom Walsh). Oliver Margolis’ explosive entry onto the stage was followed by an array of scuffles and fights with Douggie McMeekin (Coleman), usually over comically trivial issues. Valene’s unwavering, irrational devotion to his stove and figurines of saints was hilarious, and even the tragic fate of his poor dog raised roars of laughter from the audience.
The set design was superb, and evoked the sense of squalor and disorganization that offsets the petty squabbles between the brothers. It was particularly impressive that the set was so well-presented considering much of it gets destroyed and smashed-up throughout the performance due to the mad arguments and rage-fuelled, spiteful acts of vengeance enacted by the brothers
In the second half of the play, however, the set was transformed from a scene of degradation into a starry night’s sky. Very impressive, and an excellent way of moving from the chaos of the Connor brothers to the tranquillity of Father Welsh’s chat with Girleen (Cressida McGill) and his subsequent soliloquy. This formed an elegant contrast between the senseless violence and hate between the brothers and the deeper moral questions that pervade throughout the play. The heartfelt dialogue between Walsh and McGill was incredibly moving, and enabled the audience to see a more personal side to the characters, with a confessional air surrounding it.
The actors’ ability to create humour from even dark subjects such as suicide is undoubtedly worth praise, as the rapport between the Connors invited the audience in to their topsy-turvy, yet strangely endearing, world of drink and violence. We were catapulted into a parallel universe where everything became, in one way or another, a humourous joke or an excuse to get in a fight. Despite the possibility that the fights and jibes could become too frequent and predictable as the play rolled on, strong performances from all actors kept the audience gripped, and created tension in the theatre as each brother taunted the other, waiting for breaking point.
All in all, ‘The Lonesome West’ was a valiant beast of a production, with incredible stamina from the actors to maintain the tension, humour, and fierce energy that coursed through it.